Can you be friends with exes?

Published: The Good Men Project (May 10, 2016)

The title of this article is a bit misleading. My first thought was to call it, “Can you be friends with individuals of the opposite sex?” Then I realized this wouldn’t pose any potential ethical quandaries for homosexuals, so I rephrased it to “Can you be friends with individuals who you could hypothetically find sexually attractive?” That doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, though, so I decided to sum this up by simply asking, “Can you be friends with exes?” It’s not precisely accurate – although, to be fair, exes certainly fall into the category being covered here – but it is pithy.

Anyway, the genesis of this article stemmed from a recent conversation I had with a platonic female friend. Although she and I had dated for a few weeks back in 2012, nothing permanent came of it, and we maintained a friendship after it was decided that a romance wasn’t in the offing. This is why, when I noticed she had become a bit distant over the last month or so, I didn’t think much of asking if it was related to an argument we had had earlier in the year. Her reply genuinely surprised me – namely, that she was curious why I was reaching out to her rather than focusing “on the one to whom you’ve committed yourself?”

Since my girlfriend and I started dating about a month ago, my friend’s inquiry possibly explains her recent distance (I’ve been in several relationships since knowing her, although she lives far away and I may not have mentioned them). That said, it raises a deeper question about whether it’s possible for platonic friendships to exist between otherwise sexually compatible individuals – be they exes, people who simply dated for a while, or (as is most common in my case) strictly friends – without the possibility of romance lurking in the subtext. Can this be true if both parties are single? What if one is single and the other is not? For individuals who are in relationships, where are the boundaries drawn that separate faithfulness from infidelity? For those who are not in relationships, when if ever do they have the right to expect emotions to evolve from platonic to something more intimate?

These knotty questions can be easily answered by applying a straightforward dictum. As a rule, determine the behaviors that you believe should be exclusively displayed toward romantic and/or sexual partners, and avoid ever acting in those ways with your friends, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation. When you’re in a relationship, it will be impossible for you to be unfaithful as long as you maintain that firm separation between how you treat your significant other and everyone else; just as important, by insisting that your significant other also follow this rule of thumb, you can be secure in the knowledge that he or she won’t be unfaithful. If you can’t trust yourself to have certain types of friendships without succumbing to temptation, then you’re not ready to be in a committed relationship with anyone; similarly, if you can’t trust your significant other to maintain a wide range of friendships without being unfaithful, then you’re not ready to fall in love, at least in any meaningful sense of the term.

Granted, this rule is somewhat complicated when the potential friendship is with an ex. Personally, when I develop a substantive bond with another human being, I try to maintain that connection even if its exact form evolves, and as such I try to remain friends with women that I used to be romantically involved with. Of course, this may be easier for me because I have Asperger’s Syndrome; as my girlfriend pointed out last night, “It’s the gift of dating with autism. You understand clear boundaries and can follow them.” While some of the women I dated have been able to remain friends with me (and the same is true for my girlfriend with several of her exes), others insist on severing all ties or even becoming outright hostile. The behavior is hurtful, to be sure, but over the years I’ve learned that many people aren’t capable of analyzing and controlling their feelings in a logical way, or simply lack the emotional autonomy to stand up to their current significant others when they get possessive. I suspect this is one of those ways in which many autistics are more sophisticated and mature than their neurotypical counterparts, although it seems that for the time being, we will have to wait for society as a whole to catch up with us.

This leaves the final group – namely, two platonic friends who are both single and could (based on their sexual orientation) wind up in a relationship. As I explained in an article about the term “friend zoning,” no one should ever feel compelled to enter a romantic relationship with someone who they only view as a friend. That said, given the frequency with which people of both genders will claim that they were wronged by a friend who didn’t reciprocate their amorous feelings, I think my earlier rule is also very helpful here. By establishing boundaries that you consistently apply to all of your friends, you can at least avoid sending the wrong signals and unintentionally hurting your friend’s feelings. What’s more, if you find your feelings changing over time, you now have a solid idea as to how you can express those changes effectively and fairly. Open and forthright communication is key here – you should always know how you feel and how to convey those feelings to the other person. While this doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be hurt, it at least keeps everyone honest.

Whenever I write about dating, I always find myself tempted to use a quote by the existentialist philosopher Bertrand Russell. On this occasion, I’m going to post it again, because it wraps everything up quite neatly:

“Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the loneliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives.”

There are many types of love in this world. Romantic love may be the most intimate and desirable, but this hardly diminishes the value of true friendship. If anything, it makes friendships that much more meaningful. We have a very limited amount of time on this planet, and it strikes me as foolish to limit the bonds we can forge or preserve out of fear that sexual desire could get in the way. If you trust yourself, you can be friends with anyone regardless of the past and/or potential romances that you shared with them, and still remain exclusive to the one you’ve chosen to commit yourself to… and anyone worth having in your life should feel the same way.

Looking Through ‘Depressing’ Tweets

Published: Good Men Project (August 8, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa explores the latest Twitter trend, #TheWorstPartOfDepressionIs.

For the most part I’m not a big fan of Twitter. Any medium that attempts to condense the human experience into 140 characters is, in my opinion, more likely to water down meaningful self-expression than encourage it. Although my career makes Twitter use something of a necessity, I can’t deny that I view it with the same moderate disdain with which I hold so many other Internet manifestations of our sound byte culture (e.g., memes).

Every so often, however, Twitter winds up producing some unintentionally moving art.

Such was the case with #TheWorstPartOfDepressionIs yesterday.

Those three quotes, produced by individuals who (to the best of my knowledge) have no association with each other outside of their contribution to this latest hashtag, fit together almost unsettlingly well. Anyone who has had depression will tell you that it becomes an overwhelmingly painful experience – physically as well as psychologically – but that, whereas you can remove the conditions that cause certain types of bodily and emotional pain, it is literally impossible to simply “end” the anguish caused by depression. Even if you wanted to make that choice, your mind won’t let you – but, as Annika astutely observed, the familiarity you’ve developed with feeling miserable can often create an additional disincentive.

feeling guilty for not “appreciating” how good you have it compared to those who “really suffer”.

– Rev Daniel

people assuming you’re ungrateful and spiritually weak.”
“if you are tweeting about and you do not suffer from depression, you are a problem”
And now we’ve reached the obligatory part of this essay where we discuss shaming. Again, this is a common theme in any depressive’s experience – i.e., being told that if you’re depressed, it’s somehow your fault because you’re ungrateful for your various privileges or are too weak to stand up to the same pains that “everyone goes through.” Even one of the advocates trying to cultivate sympathy with sufferers of depression wound up using a shaming technique; how else to argue that people who wish to comment on depression but lack a clinical diagnosis are “a problem”? When it comes to the subject of depression, it seems impossible to have any lengthy discourse without elements of shaming and guilt-tripping getting dragged into it.
being unable to stop thinking things you know are false, being trapped with the enemy that is your own mind.”
it truly never goes away, the thoughts and feelings stay even when you’re at your happiest”
– “ feeling okay or maybe even happy but waiting until it turns dark and foggy again.”
Finally, we reach the most important part of any thorough examination of depression: Here we find explorations of futility. When you’re depressed, there are no good moments that can entirely erase the pain of your moment-by-moment existence. Sure, the pain will wax and wane – some days are worse than others, and when you’re having a particularly good time those positive experiences can eclipse the potency of your depression – but that sense of darkness never dissipates entirely. Living with depression is, quite literally, the ordeal of spending every waking second with an emotion that leaves you feeling “very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way” (to crib from Merriam-Webster’s). The best possible outcome is that you’re able to eke through something resembling a satisfying life despite this debilitating ailment; more often than not, success and failure are a crapshoot.
Okay, one last tweet:
when abusers in your life seize upon your most depressive/vulnerable times to abuse/try to manipulate you.”
Personally, I think this is the worst part of depression. I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of love in my life – from significant others and family members to friends and professional colleagues – and I can safely say that the Number One factor which exacerbates my depression is when one of these loved ones hurts me. Unfortunately, the girlfriends/friends/relatives/co-workers who have felt most comfortable doing this (it doesn’t matter what their exact role was, they were all the same here) have been the ones who suffered from some kind of terrible pain in their own lives (often due to mental illness) and believed that, because of their own suffering, it would be okay for them to hurt others.
In other words, very often the men and women most directly responsible for worsening other people’s depression are the ones who suffer from it themselves. If there is one lesson we can hopefully learn from this trending hashtag about depression, it is that there are enough fellow sufferers out there that we should at least conscientious of their feelings too.

Why Conservatives Will Deeply Regret Coining the Term “Obamacare”

Published: mic (December 4, 2013)

One day, in the not too distant future, conservatives will deeply regret their decision to use “Obamacare” as an epithet for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

This isn’t to say that the tactic isn’t working right now. Although polls have consistently shown that an overwhelming majority of Americans supports the ACA’s key provisions of the ACA, those same studies found a significant drop in approval once the ACA became labeled “Obamacare.” Even comedian Jimmy Kimmel demonstrated the effectiveness of the scare label’s when he interviewed Americans who opposed “Obamacare” and supported the “Affordable Care Act” without realizing that they were the same thing.

In light of the current controversies involving the glitchy health exchange website and President Barack Obama’s dishonesty about whether all Americans could keep their current insurance plans, this strategy may seem like a sound, long-term plan. After all, if the ACA becomes unpopular, its fame as Obamacare will forever tarnish not only Obama’s legacy, but quite possibly the Democratic Party’s brand as well.

The flip side of this, of course, is that if Obamacare succeeds and becomes popular, they will have done the president and his party a massive favor. And that’s where the Republicans run into a problem.

For one thing, the ACA has already solved many of the issues that caused a clamor for health care reform in the first place. It has expanded Medicare to allow seniors to receive free preventive and wellness services, required insurance companies to spend at least 80% of their premiums on actual medical services instead of using it for advertising or executive salaries, and allowed parents to enroll their children under their plans until they’re 26. Just as importantly, it has made it illegal for insurance companies to drop people from their plans after they get sick, limit how much insurance a family uses, or deny coverage to chronically ill children.

The changes due next year will be even more sweeping. By the end of 2014, the ACA will have made it illegal for insurers to deny coverage due to preexisting conditionsexpanded Medicaid to cover all individuals and families at 138% of the poverty level ($15,856 for individuals or $32,499 for a family of four), and provided tax credits, lowered copayments, and deductibles to offset insurance costs for working-class Americans ineligible for Medicaid (those who are 400% of the poverty level, which as of 2014 will be $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four).

It will even require all insurance plans to offer 10 essential benefits, including ambulatory services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder care, prescription drug coverage, rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services, and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

Indeed, even many of Obamacare’s unpopular provisions are a direct by-product of these popular benefits: Health insurance plans are being cancelled precisely because companies feel they need to charge higher premiums to cover all 10 essential benefits, while the “individual mandate” penalty on Americans who don’t buy insurance exists to protect the private market, since the only way to guarantee universal health coverage (aside from socialized health care) is to make sure people don’t choose to only buy insurance when they get sick.

While the ACA may seem to be struggling now, it has another year before the 2014 midterm elections provide Republicans with an opportunity to repeal it. By that time, it is likely that the public may forget the present annoyances and start appreciating the benefits reaped by the bill.

Even if Republicans were able to win the two-thirds majority necessary to override the president and repeal the bill (which even the most optimistic pundits would agree is unlikely), Americans would no doubt oppose losing Obamacare’s benefits and will consider Obamacare not the bugaboo trumped up by right-wing ad campaigns , but rather as a positive force in their lives.

And that, I predict, is precisely the moment when conservatives will regret popularizing the term Obamacare.